Back in November, Central Bedfordshire Council announced plans to cut funding to the Bedfordshire Music Service. Bedfordshire Music is the principal provider of instrumental education and musical enrichment opportunities in the county of Bedfordshire.
Their Overview and Scrutiny Committee met on 23rd November 2010 and recommended that any decision about the service should be deferred until after the Henley Review had published its report – due in February 2011.
On 7th December 2010, the Executive Committee met and it was reported at the time that the committee had accepted the the recommendations of the Scrutiny Committee. The main recommendations were:
• to await the report of the Henley Review, which was expected in early January, before making any decisions about funding for the Music Service, and
• to disaggregate the Service – i.e. to split it up between Bedford Borough (which is currently not proposing any cuts) and Central Bedfordshire.
After looking at the minutes of that meeting, http://www.centralbedfordshire.gov.uk/modgov/mgConvert2PDF.aspx?ID=3370&T=1, there is no mention of waiting for the Henley Review, only the disaggregation.
The Henley Report was published on 7th February and, among other recommendations, suggested that cost savings could be made by developing wider partnerships (Recommendation 15). This could include the merger of senior management and support functions over a number of Local Authority areas, just the opposite of what is being proposed. This was a question asked by Michael Rose at the Extraordinary General Meeting of The Friends of Bedfordshire Youth Music on 8th February http://www.fbym.org.uk/minutes/110208-FBYM-EGM-08-Feb-2011.pdf.
The consequences of the decisions became apparent yesterday when we found that the music service fees will rise by a staggering 69%. Evidently we will soon receive a letter from the music service letting us know about the rises and giving us until 1st April to terminate lessons before the rises come into effect.
At the moment, my son and daughter both have violin lessons (10 per term); my son has an individual lesson of 20 minutes, costing £103.95 a term and my daughter a group lesson costing £69.30 a term. These costs would rise to £175.68 and £117.12 respectively. Before my son had music service violin lessons, he was having private lessons; the private lessons were costing us £20 for 45 minutes. Looking at the maths, a private lesson for £20 or a music service lesson costing £17.57 for half the time, it doesn’t look like Bedfordshire Music is planning to remain ‘the principal provider of instrumental education and musical enrichment opportunities in the county of Bedfordshire’. What this will mean, is that the demand for peripatetic music lessons will drop to the point that Central Bedfordshire will no longer need to employ the teachers, leaving them to find their own employment and opportunities for children to learn a music instrument in Central Bedfordshire will be seriously curtailed.
Once we add in the rise in cost for the Saturday morning sessions at Dunstable Music Centre, our termly costs would rise by £224, which I don’t see as sustainable. If a large number of people decide these rises are too much and either reduce or cancel their use of the provision, then Central Bedfordshire Council will be able to say the message is that ‘no-one wants the music service’ and be able to start closing down, rather than just running down aspects of it.
If they had said that they were closing the music centres, then the friends of the individual centres would have an opportunity to put together a plan to keep them running. Just putting up the fees means that by the time they finally close, they will have been run down to the point that there is no chance of re-opening them.
So that, in my view, is Central Bedfordshire Council’s plan for the destruction of the Bedfordshire Music Service, ending its long established national reputation for excellence.